Despite falling unemployment rate, child care and housing shortages continue to hinder availability of employees in Summit County
The unemployment rate in Summit County, which peaked at 26.5% in May 2020, was down to 5% in July.
Though unemployment is down — and lower than the state’s rate of 5.9% in July — it is not as low as pre-pandemic levels, which hovered between 1.4% and 2.4%, according to Colorado Department of Labor and Employment statistics. According to a news release from the department, the share of Coloradans participating in the labor force was 68.3% in July, which is slightly below the February 2020 labor force participation rate of 68.7% before the pandemic began.
The current unemployment statistic doesn’t reflect what Danielle McQueen, grant and evaluation manager at the Family & Intercultural Resource Center, has observed.
“I wouldn’t say that I hear (unemployment) predominantly being a reason that people are seeking financial support,” McQueen said. “I think one reason a lot of people are struggling is they have dependent children, and they don’t have child care.”
In June and July, about 40% of people seeking support from the nonprofit did not have an adult in the household who was employed full time, McQueen said. Out of 86 respondents to a survey conducted by the resource center, only two marked that they were unemployed.
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“I think people are employed, but — especially people with kids who lack child care — they might have some employment but they can’t work full time,” McQueen said.
McQueen urged employers to be as flexible as possible with their employees with children, as the number of people lacking child care has only worsened.
From March 2020 to February 2021, about 30% to 35% of people who were seeking the support of the resource center needed child care and did not have it, according to the nonprofit’s data. In June and July, between 55% and 60% of parents who were seeking the support of the resource center needed child care and did not have it.
Of course, school wasn’t in session during this time and it is now, so that metric likely has improved, but after-school child care is often needed in order for parents to work. And if a child contracts COVID-19 or is otherwise quarantined, it is hard to get child care on the fly, McQueen said.
“The people probably in Summit County who are suffering the most are those parents who are lacking needed child care to go back to work full time,” McQueen said.
For those who can’t get the child care they need, McQueen said parents are getting creative by finding side gigs, such as cleaning while their children are in school.
McQueen explained that many people who reach out to the center for support call because they had an unexpected financial expense and are unable to cover their basic needs. She added that many people’s incomes continue to be too low to support them in Summit County.
“In Summit County, jobs don’t pay a wage that supports the cost of living,” McQueen said. “So, yeah, people are back to work predominantly, but I think a lot of people are still catching up from credit card debt they accrued during the pandemic, and they exhausted their savings.”
While issues like shortage of child care and low wages have long been issues in Summit County, McQueen said the center’s requests aren’t exactly back to normal following a surge in need amid the pandemic.
“One thing that is certainly worse is that people call every day saying, ‘My landlord is selling my place. I don’t have anywhere to live,’” McQueen said.
Housing affecting the labor market is something Jay Beckerman, owner of Blue River Bistro, is seeing first hand.
“We have seen people … leaving because their houses that they’re renting are being sold out from underneath them and turned into short-term (rentals) for sure, and so that’s been a huge hurdle for us, just retaining the staff that wants to stay with us,” Beckerman said.
Blue River Bistro is currently fully staffed, but Beckerman said the restaurant is losing people and that it’s difficult to see long-term employees go.
“I’ve built relationships with these people; these are people that have been with me for eight to 10 years. And yeah, we’re able to find replacements, but it may have taken us 12 employees to find that one person that was with us for eight to 10 years,” Beckerman said, noting that losing long-term employees also results in the loss of a sense of community.
At Relish, owner TJ Messerschmitt said the restaurant is closing two days per week because there aren’t enough people to run the kitchen. Messerschmitt, who also owns Fatty’s Pizzeria, said the restaurants have been actively trying to hire all summer and no one is applying for open positions.
“There’s no employees in this town,” Messerschmitt said. “… I’ve just never seen it before. It’s pretty bad.”
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